With some Lahaina residents returning to their neighborhoods, authorities are now seeking to open the area back up to the booming Maui tourist industry, reports the NY Times.
The disaster recovery process includes doing safety testing on the soil, air, and water before allowing tourism to enter around the middle of October.
“We attended the Maui County Council meeting, and hundreds of people showed up. They argue that they don’t have to rely solely on tourism here, that you can diversify this economy. They want to be more in control of the decisions that are being made about how we go forward,” recounts William Brangham, PBS NewsHour correspondent.
CBS News reported that according to Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, 80% of Maui’s economy is dependent on tourism in the last three years. And more than 3 million tourists have visited Maui, spending around $5.4 billion annually.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green discouraged nonessential vacation to West Maui through October 17th out of respect to the healing land. But Green continues to spotlight the significance of tourism to West Maui in hopes of economic recovery.
“I talked to the mayor earlier this week, the mayor of Maui County, and he is very sensitive to the idea that tourists would come here and treat the burned devastation of Lahaina as another tourist attraction,” said Brangham.
Brangham highlights how the governor has also argued that tourism can honor the people who are coping with the repercussions of the fire.
Lahaina itself will remain closed from the public eye due to the community’s disagreement on tourism.
West Maui is close to losing $9 million dollars a day following the fire, with many businesses citing difficulties making a living without tourism.
Prior to the wildfires, around 8,000 people arrived on Maui each day. It has dwindled to 2,000 people after the fire.
“No one in Hawai‘i will ever forget the tragedy that our friends, families, loved ones, and colleagues in Lahaina are enduring,” said Daniel Nāho‘opi‘i, Chief Administrative Officer of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.
As the community heals from this tragedy, the residents and officials will soon have to find a common ground for what is truly best for the land they live on.
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